The last thing you may want to have to think about now that the warmer weather has arrived is your winter heating bill.
But what better time than the summer to finally tackle those draughty windows and floorboards (if you live in a late 19th century house like I do), the attic that hasn’t been properly insulated or your empty cavity walls.
Since January, anyone who wants to rent their home, let alone sell it, must provide the prospective tenant or buyer with a Building Energy Rating (BER) certificate that tells them just how energy (in)efficient the property will be on a scale of A(very good) to G (my house, I suspect).
But this rating will also give you the gauge you need to determine exactly how to make your home cheaper to heat.
Recognising that our housing stock was in desperate need of an energy upgrade, the government has introduced the Home Energy Saving (HES) scheme, operated by Sustainable Energy Ireland which provides grants to homeowners of properties built before 2006, who want to reduce energy use, cut their fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
The HES scheme is open to all homeowners, including landlords or management companies who want to upgrade an entire building and it awards grants towards the cost of:
- Roof insulation (up to €250)
- Wall insulation (cavity wall – up to €400, internal dry lining – €2,500 or external – €4,000)
- Installation of a high efficiency gas or oil fired boilers (€700) with heating controls upgrade
- Heating controls upgrade (€500) and €200 towards a Building Energy Rating (BER) – if one is done before and after the works are completed.
The grants are fixed amounts but you need to spend at least €500 to qualify. You must get approval before you engage a contractor or buy materials, and you get the grant payment only after you have paid your contractor, who must be on the SEI approved contractors list.
The least expensive part of this scheme is getting your BER, say contractors, some of whom are advertising their services for as little as €30 in the case of an apartment, to €120 for a detached house, but this is in addition to getting the €200 BER grant.
The actual cost of a major insulation job depends of course on the size of the property, the degree of work needed and the cost of labour and materiel, which, fortunately, is far better value now than a couple of years ago.
Be sure to shop around between the listed contractors and make sure you get written quotations and only pay the work when it is done to your satisfaction.
Homeowners with plenty of equity in their homes and a safe income shouldn’t have too much difficulty raising a personal loan or second mortgage to get their insulation standard improved.
With fixed rates at less than four per cent from some mortgage lenders and higher interest rates inevitable, you might want to fix the rate.
If you have savings, you should use them: many credit unions are paying no dividend this year, while the deposit rates from the banks and building societies are a fraction of personal loan rates, typically 9.5 to 10 per cent APR.
One valid criticism of the Home Energy Savings scheme is that it is aimed at middle class homeowners.
For the estimated 60,000 households that are living in what is known as persistent fuel poverty and receiving a Fuel Allowance Payment, there’s another scheme to consider – the SEI’s Low Income Housing Programme (you can e-mail them at email@example.com).
For typically less than €100, with the rest of the cost covered by the Warmer Homes Scheme, households may be directly eligible for attic insulation, draught proofing, lagging jackets, CFL bulbs, cavity wall insulation where available.
No grants apply in this case as the service is delivered through 19 voluntary organisations around the country.
Finally, for those of you in the market for a new house, or a new build, you need to take account not just these basic energy saving features but also the option of buying a super energy efficient houses.
One that I’m familiar with is a Canadian designed timber frame project in Rosslare by DAC International and Milharbour Construction that was launched last month by the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Patrick Binns.
Houses like these (there are 43 planned for this site are often very reasonably priced, (from just €221,000 in the case of the Rosslare development) and produce BER certificates of A3, the highest rating. They offer not just the most energy efficient houses, but best internal air quality as well, using sustainable materials.
Eco-friendly, energy efficient builds exist all over the country now. Contact your local county council or check out the SEI website (www.sei.ie) for one in your area.
Jill Kerby welcomes reader’s letters. Please write to her via this newspaper or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org